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The Role of the Chorus in Greek Drama

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Nikki Krupp

on 5 November 2012

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Transcript of The Role of the Chorus in Greek Drama

The Greek Chorus How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today
-By Simon Goldhill "The most distinctive feature of Greek tragedy is also the most vexing for any modern company: the chorus." "The chorus is an integral part of tragedy, but how can it possibly work in modern theater?" The Ancient Chorus Basic Facts Ear Early tragedy (up to The Oresteia) had 12 members in the chorus, Sophocles began using 15

Choruphaios leads the chorus and speaks on behalf of the group

Chorus has a collective identity (Bacchant women in the Bacchae, Elders in Oedipus etc.)

Has matching costumes and masks

Chorus sings and dances odes in between scenes of drama The Chorus in the Institution of Tragedy "One of the structuring principles of tragedy is the tension between the collective chorus and the individual hero." The hero goes too far.... "The greatness of the hero is acheived at the expense of his ability to fit into normal social parameters." Hero is often destroyed, or destroys himself, in the pursuit of his own goals. "This passionate self-belief and self-commitment is set in juxtaposition to the cooperative virtues of the community." "The chorus stands for and dramatizes a communal voice, which is set against the hero's individualism." The Chorus in Greek Culture Religious & Social Background Young children were educated in choral performances - performed at religious festivals
Choral training was seen as good preparation for war
Older men took part in choral competitions and dithyrambic competitions at the Great Dionysia "Achoreutos apaideutos" -plato (No chorus, no culture) Political Frame Late 5th century Athens is a radical democracy and imperialist force.

"Democracy demands that the individual act on behalf of the community." "The tension between the community and the individual has a special charge in democracy, where the individual is expected to participate fully in the community to the point of giving over his life and livelihood for its benefit. Speaking with a communal voice has a unique force in democracy." The Role of the Chorus Chorus acts as a "hinge" between scenes or speakers.... "Choral songs, as much as the heroes' speeches, always have an argument. The chorus offers a commentary on the action that has happened, and looks forward to the action to come, and it does so precisely from the perspective of its collective identity." Expresses communal wisdom, and struggles with the audience to deal with the exceptional circumstances in tragedy. Chorus has a certain authority... we are expected to listen. Modern Theories on an Ancient Chorus 1. The chorus speaks with the voice of the author It is through the chorus that the author expresses what he actually believes. Goldhill disagrees with this theory: Chorus regularly misunderstands actions
Will often act too aggressively or too passively "There is no chorus in Greek tragedy that simply sums up or completely comprehends the action." 2. Chorus acts as an idealized spectator; they are the audience on stage Goldhill doesn't like this one either... Explanation does not accomodate the "marginal status" of many chorus' (Elders, women slaves, furies, Bacchic women...)
Does not explain the "wild and bloodthirsty" choral odes. So, Mr. Goldhill, what is the role of the chorus?? "The chorus is a collective body, which mobilizes (but does not simply embody) communal wisdom and communal memory. It speaks both as a particular character and with the authority (religious, social, cultural) that comes from its status as a chorus." The Modern Problem... Why do modern companies have so much trouble with the chorus? 1. The fundamental issue of collectivity... "The chorus in ancient Greece emerges from and speaks to a society that accustomed to collective institutions and, above all, to participating in them. But what are the modern equivalents?


"It is surprisingly hard to find groups in modern Western culture that are both truly collective and can speak with even a modicum of authority." The Modern Solution The Full Scale Chorus The Gospel at Colonus an adaptation of Oedipus at Colonus The Musical Chorus captured the same feeling of fellowship as the Ancient Chorus.

Entertaining to a modern audience.

Progresses the story using song instead of poetry.

Solved the problem of collective identity and expressive voice. There are fundamental societal differences that make modernizing a chorus difficult... Why is the chorus there? In what sense are they a collective? With what voice can they speak? 2. What is the chorus' collective voice in action? Chorus must be able to take a step back and provide reflection and commentary. Chorus must have an argument or opinion. The Problem... "The question for modern performance, then, is how to incorporate the principles of the chorus as an institution - without hoping to recapture the lost cultural world of ancient Athenian democracy. How can collectivity and a shift of expressiveness during the odes be incorporated into a contemporary staging?" Les Atrides By Arian Mnouchkine An adaptation of The Oresteia Took its visual and physical inspiration from the theatre of the East, specifically the Kathakali tradition of India.

Used tradition from another culture and "responds powerfully both to the collective force of the ancient chorus, and to its special mode of expressiveness." Peter Hall's Oresteia Peter Hall stays true to the Ancient Chorus, with slight variation in masks.
Although the words are in English, the rest of the production attempts to replicate the rhythm and cadence of the ancient greek. The Reduced Chorus David Leveaux's Electra Jonathan Kent's Hecuba Single actress as the chorus.
Choral odes largely cut. "She could not speak with choral authority, or offer the contrast a choral group offers to the lead actor." "Hecuba's extreme and particular response to her situation is fully articulated against the group, and their singing about other places, peaceful places, takes the play temporarilyaway from the brutality all around. All this is lost when the lines are cut and the chorus becomes a single confidant." "Finding the role and the identity of the chorus is a fundamental challenge for any modern production of ancient Greek tragedy. The full-scale chorus needs to develop a coherent collective presence which makes sense within the aesthetics and narrative of the drama." Song and Dance Music and dance defined choral performance in the ancient world... How should a modern performance deal with the different form of expressiveness offered by a choral ode?" "The beginnings of opera in the Renaissance were explicitly an attempt to reinvent the experience of Greek tragedy." This evolution of incorporating music eventually lead to musical theatre as its own genre. Musical Theatre takes the central goal of the chorus, driving the plot forward, and creates an atmosphere for the audience to connect in a modern context. Fiona Shaw's performance of Electra Chorus is reduced to five women who "cajole and advise Electra, and back off from her extreme emotion. The choral odes, split berween the different members of the chorus, become a conversation which rehearses their shared notions f right and wrong, the stories of the past, and their hopes for the future." Finding the Role of the Chorus "Finding the role - the identity and voice - of the chorus is, then, the biggest challenge and the biggest stumbling block for the modern director." So.... our lovely and beautiful class.... SO WHAT??? HOW DO YOU MAKE THE BUILDING FALL???? KIDDING. Alright for real this time...
You are the swanky director putting on the Oresteia. So let's talk about your choruses...!

Remember! They need to have a collective identity that makes sense to a modern audience and need to be able to speak from that identity!
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